Takuma stared at Iruka with a countenance he wasn't sure he was showing. The words which had come out of his team leader's mouth were one of the last words he expected to hear, the last words he ever wanted to hear.
"I am going to the Uchiha?!" asked Takuma.
"To the Leaf Military Police Force, but yes… to the Uchiha," Iruka smiled.
Like any shinobi in the Hidden Leaf, he had heard about the Leaf Military Police Force being opened to outsiders for the first time since its inauguration. Normally, the prospect of being moved out of the Genin Corp would be exciting news, but the Uchiha was one of the two places he didn't want to go— the second one being the ROOT. Which was why he hadn't applied for it.
"Are you going to the Police Force?" asked Takuma.
Iruka shook his head.
"You're kicking me out of your team. What, because of the mission?" Takuma felt betrayed.
The mandatory service for a genin in the Genin Corp was thirty months; only after that were they able to transfer out if an opportunity presented itself. From the very first day in the Genin Corp, one of Takuma's goals had been to get himself out of the Genin Corp by the end of the thirty months. It could've been through the Chunin Exam or transfer into another department— Takuma was open to almost anything.
Getting recruited by Iruka had eased the burden on his shoulders. Becoming a regular in a chunin's team was a stable opportunity to continuously pile C-rank missions on his record while churning mission points in the Ring to add jutsu to his arsenal. In fact, before the Land of Frost mission, he planned to approach a few more chunin he had met through Iruka. He could've even asked Nenro to introduce him to his chunin connections. He hadn't chosen a department to target, but his current progress rate would have been ample for the Chunin Exam. In his opinion, things were progressing steadily.
"I'm not kicking you out of the team, Takuma," Iruka sighed. "The team is disbanded… I've taken an alternate job which doesn't allow me to maintain an active field team."
"Job, what job?"
"A teacher at the academy."
The heat and panic in Takuma's head momentarily cooled as he stared at his team lead. Iruka working as a teacher for the academy was something he knew very well.
"… Did you want to become a teacher?" asked Takuma.
Iruka leaned in his chair as the tension left his body. He looked away into the distance as he said. "My parents died during the Nine-Tails attack. I was suddenly an orphan, much like yourself. I was alone after that… My academy teacher back then, Seno Hisashi, became a parental figure at a time I desperately needed one," Iruka smiled. "I knew from the moment I graduated that I wanted to become an academy teacher. I don't think I can be a parental figure— a cool older brother that I can manage."
Takuma could barely muster a half chuckle.
"I didn't think it'd be this soon," Iruka sighed. "I wanted to stay on the field for a couple more years before I applied. But a position recently opened up, and because of the mission's failure, it seems the right time to step away from the field. There's an unfavorable opinion around me right now, and getting meaningful missions will be difficult…"
Takuma could see the unwillingness in Iruka's eyes. He could see that Iruka wanted to be an academy teacher, but he wanted to do that on his own terms— not to be forced by the circumstances. Takuma understood that feeling.
"… Nine-Tail's jinchuuriki is going to be in the academy. How do you feel about that?" Takuma asked, his attention focused on Iruka's face, body language, and words to not miss anything. Iruka's history made it so that the man would hold a grudge against a certain yellow-haired kid studying in the academy right about now.
Iruka's hand on the table clenched, a bitter expression appeared on his face, and his body stiffened as he shifted in his seat.
"…I know," he said.
"It's like a kunai sealed in a scroll," Takuma said. "He's the jailor."
"I understand that!" Iruka closed his eyes. "It doesn't change the fact I lost my parents. You understand how that feels."
"No, I don't know how that feels… I never knew my parents, so I don't know how having parents feel. It doesn't bother me," Takuma turned his head to look away.
"You're lying," Iruka's expression softened.
Takuma didn't reply. He never knew the boy's parents, but he knew his own parents, and they had been taken away from him when he found himself in this world. Takuma would give anything— everything— if he could see them one more time, to be able to hug them once and tell them that he loved them more than anything. If he could see his elder sister's smile again, tell her to take care, advise her to dump her pathetic girlfriend and find someone else, and say his goodbyes, he wouldn't mind giving up anything asked in return.
"… I knew he'd be there when I took the job," Iruka sighed. "I know how to conduct myself in front of a child. I won't do what you're fearing."
"If it helps, he's an orphan like me… just like you. He's in need of that parental figure your teacher was for you. More often than not, orphanages aren't good places for children."
Takuma could only take his word for it and put his hope in the source material.
Later that day, Takuma walked home from the grocery store. His mind returned to his transfer to the Leaf Military Police Force. He was no longer in the Genin Corp. His body felt haggard, and the jute bag filled with groceries, usually weightless, seemed heavier than the heaviest dumbbells in the gym.
A decision out of his control had put his life in danger. He had no idea when the Uchiha Clan massacre happened, but he was sure it was close in the future. And him being in the Leaf Military Police Force put him directly under the crosshair of two mass murderers who wouldn't hesitate to kill anyone put in front of them. He didn't want to be one of those people, but the recent developments had become a real possibility.
Takuma couldn't even blame Iruka for it, even if he wanted to. The man was only looking out for him by placing him in a situation beneficial for his career. Working for the Uchiha was a huge(huge!) opportunity for someone like him, and working in the Leaf Military Police Force was a prestigious position with lots of additional benefits. He would've enjoyed that if he didn't know the future caveat. Sometimes knowledge was a curse— a curse he was thankful for.
He could feel the assignment scroll burning a hole in his weapons pocket. It had been a few hours since Iruka had handed it to him, but he didn't have the courage to open it and look because he knew the moment he looked, it would become real. But Takuma knew he couldn't delay looking anymore.
As Takuma walked through a playground, he caught a head of sun-yellow hair stepping out of the playground, and he couldn't take his eyes off the kid who slowly trudged past him. In the two years he had been in the Hidden Leaf Village, Takuma hadn't met the protagonist of the world even once— he had deliberately not made any contact, and thankfully, he hadn't accidentally bumped into him as well.
Perhaps it was Fates mocking him because the first time he had ever mentioned the kid, he had appeared before him. There was no mistaking it— sun-yellow hair, whisker-like markings on cheeks, and cerulean blue eyes.
Uzumaki Naruto, the Nine-Tail's jailor, the Child of Prophecy, was in front of him.
Maybe he sensed the gaze because Naruto stopped and looked back at Takuma. Naruto's brows furrowed.
"What?" he sounded defensive.
Takuma had imagined a lot about how he would feel and react when he saw Uzumaki Naruto for the first time, and despite all he had imagined, all he felt in the moment as he looked at the kid in front of him was just that.
'A kid,' he thought.
Naruto might have the Nine-Tails sealed inside of him, he might have great things in his future, he might even be the savior of the shinobi world, the future Hokage of this village— but right now, all Takuma saw was a simple kid in front of him.
"Come here," the words left Takuma's mouth before he could even entirely process what he was doing.
Naruto looked hesitant. He looked around before slowly walking towards Takuma with the hem of his shirt balled up in his tiny fists. Takuma knelt so he was below Naruto's eye line to make him feel safe.
"What's your name, kid?"
"Nice to meet you, Naruto. Where do you live?"
Naruto pursed his lips, "… Little Hope Orphanage."
"Oh, yeah? I used to live in the Mini Miracles Orphan Home."
"You did?" Naruto seemed surprised.
"I did when I was your age," Takuma smiled. "Do you like Little Hope Orphanage, Naruto?"
Naruto once again hesitated for a moment before shaking his head. "Not too much," he said. "Everyone is mean… and no fun."
"Do they hit you?" Takuma doubted the Hokage would allow Naruto to live in a place of physical abuse,
Naruto shook his head. "No one smiles… and others don't play with me."
"I see… Do you go to school, Naruto?"
"I do. I go to the shinobi academy," Naruto looked up at Takuma's forehead. "You also went there, right?"
Takuma was dressed in his shinobi uniform because before Iruka contacted him, he planned to take on a D-rank mission. He usually didn't dress in the shinobi uniform when he wasn't working, but today he hadn't bothered to change out.
Takuma touched his forehead protector and smiled, "Smart one, aren't you? I did go to the shinobi academy, the same one as you. You know, they gave me my own house when I turned ten years old because I was attending the shinobi academy."
"Really?!" Naruto had the most animated reaction since the start of their interaction. He sounded so excited at the prospect of getting his own house and moving out of the orphanage.
"I promise," Takuma smiled. "Do you like the shinobi academy, Naruto?"
"I do!" Naruto grinned. "We play outside. Tag, Hide-and-Seek, Races, Catch-and-Pass— and-and-and…"
Takuma smiled. He hadn't been a first-year academy student but knew the curriculum disguised physical training as games. The goal was to lay the foundation for teaching the children to appreciate training for training's sake and partly as a teamwork-building exercise.
"… It's fun, believe it!" Naruto smiled.
Takuma couldn't hold back his laughter. He couldn't believe he was hearing that verbal tick in person.
"… S-Studying isn't fun though," Naruto frowned. "It's so boring…."
Takuma smiled, "What about chakra? Do you like chakra, Naruto?"
"Charka… oh that, it's too com-com-comp—"
"Yeah, that, it's too difficult, believe it!"
Takuma chuckled, "First of all, it's called chakra…. Second, chakra doesn't have to be complicated," he took out a notepad from his person and tore an edge. His chakra held the piece against his finger as he showed it to Naruto. "Do you know about the Leaf Concentration Practice, Naruto?"
Naruto nodded with a frown.
"It's okay if you don't understand the complicated things. You can take those parts slowly," Takuma said. "All you have to do is to take a piece of paper— leaves can be a bit smelly— and just try to stick them with your fingers…. Sticking paper to your fingers is easier, then you move onto your arm, then to your forehead, and finally, you do it with your feet."
Takuma had no idea what he was doing. His explanation seemed too complex— and well, not fun. He paused to take a breath and realized what exactly he was doing. If Maruboshi had been her, he would've done it a thousand times better. Takuma had been interacting with Naruto— Uzumaki Naruto, the son of the Fourth Hokage and the Nine-Tail's jinchuriki— Takuma had no idea who was keeping an eye on Naruto, and he couldn't get on those people's radar because of all the shady shit he had been up to as Scars and Tobi. Getting on a surveillance list of some kind for any reason was the last thing Takuma wanted. Because if they found what he was up to, they could get rid of suspicion that he was trying to get close to Naruto for some ulterior motive.
Even without all of that, Takuma had no interest in interacting with someone like Naruto.
He needed to wrap up quickly.
"Do you want to be a shinobi, Naruto?" Takuma asked.
"I do. Shinobi are cool!" Naruto grinned.
"Oh, thank you," Takuma smiled. If it were any other child, Takuma would've told them to be anything other than a shinobi. But Naruto had to be a shinobi for everyone's good. "Well, if you want to be a cool shinobi, you need to pay attention to what is being taught in the academy, okay?"
"Even if it's boring?"
"Even if it's boring," Takuma paused. "Let me tell you a little secret." Naruto leaned, looking interested. "If you become good at the things taught at the academy, everyone will want to be your friend."
"Like they want to be friends with the jerk?" asked Naruto.
Takuma was momentarily confused, but he realized Naruto was asking about Sasuke. "Yeah, just like that… jerk. Who's nicer between you and him."
"Me, believe it!"
"Now, if you're better than him and nicer than him, wouldn't everyone want to be your friend? Then, you'll have lots of friends," smiled Takuma. "Even the jerk would be your friend; wouldn't that be nice?"
"I guess so," Naruto didn't sound convinced.
Takuma reached into his grocery bag, took out a chocolate bar he had bought as a stress purchase, and placed it in Naruto's hand. "Now, it's getting dark, and you should go back home. Take this with you and share it with your classmates tomorrow, alright?"
"Okay!" Any child would be happy to get sweets.
"Now go along, okay?" Takuma stood up and ruffled Naruto's hair.
Naruto ran away with the chocolate bar in hand, and Takuma, too, turned to walk away when he heard Naruto call out to him,
"What's your name, big bro?"
Takuma turned, thought for a moment, and said, "You can call me big bro when you see me the next time," he winked, waved his hand, and turned to walk away.
He turned the corner and it took his all to continue walking at a steady pace… just in case someone was watching.
That was more contact than Takuma wanted with Naruto or a walking nuke like him for a very long time.
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